Because We Can, Can, Can!

Remember the scene in the movie Moulin Rouge when Ewan McGregor is experiencing the cancan dancers for the first time? Jim Broadbent starts the action and song by Fatboy Slim by yelling “Because we can, can, can!” The stage swirls, women twirl, legs kick, and dancers create a flurry of color and movement as he sings, “Everybody can, can!” Similar to that scene, Can Can Wonderland, in one of the industrial pockets of St. Paul, swallows up visitors and pulls us into a loud gallery of motion, sound, smells, tastes, and scintillation. Bordering on overstimulation, the whole experience can never be consumed on a single visit, but requires return trips. The original art on the walls, the furnishings, the artist-made mini-golf course, the arcade games, the stage, the drinks, the food: there’s no way to dance fast enough for this place. But try, we can, can, can.

Photos by Katherine Harris of The Jadeite Shutter

And I am absolutely thrilled about that. St. Paul needed a bit more fun. We’re seen as kind of stuffy over here. I know this to not be true, but you kind of have to be in the know to find the extended versions of St. Paul. The director’s cut. Where the streets are crooked and we let loose a bit. You also need to know how to find this place. Look for a smokestack, some signs, and just follow your art-instinct (GPS helps). I found myself parking beneath a building and knew I was in the right place when I was parked next to a huge puppet-bicycle, the likes of which I’d seen at the May Day Parade and the Art Shanty Project.

Now added to my beloved list of art-centric experiences, Can Can Wonderland is reminiscent of so much, but all brought together in one location. It’s campy like Betty Danger’s, but without the big wheel to ride. It’s like going out to Franconia Sculpture Park, but it’s in a big basement in St. Paul…and you play mini golf through it. Then add some of the fun that has come with bringing back arcade games as has been done with Up-Down arcade bar and TILT Pinball Bar in Minneapolis, but make them go even further back in time. Add some amusement park food, cocktails and beverages that delight the eyes as well as the tongues, and then stir in a lively events calendar to bring about a whirlwind of activity. This place is like no other.

It should come as no surprise that all of these things can be pulled together with style, skill, and overwhelming popularity. The people behind this venture — Christi Atkinson, Rob Clapp, Chris Pennington, and Jennifer Pennington — are also those who’ve brought about such art projects as Walker artist-designed mini golf, the Ten Second Film Festival, and Soap Factory’s Haunted Basement. These are wildly popular attractions in our art-o-sphere, as is Can Can Wonderland now. What’s more, Can Can Wonderland is the first arts-based public benefit corporation in Minnesota with the social purpose to be an economic engine for the arts. So, what you spend there not only pays for your experiences, but goes back into providing funding for the arts. Talk about a win-win.

The main attraction is the mini-golf course at $12 a round for adults, $9 a round for kids, veterans, and folks who are 62 and older. With 18 holes, there is so much to see and pay attention to, more than just your ball or where it’s going. Or the drink you’re holding (I need a holster for my ice cream soda float the next time I go). I suggest checking out the artists on the website and reading up on the pieces you’ll be playing on and in and around. Each hole has not only a person or a team that designed it, but a person or team that fabricated it, being sure to give credit where it’s due. There are Rube Goldberg-esque holes (perhaps all mini-golf holes are), one with kitschy furniture, a frog, some water, and the last one is really hard, where you have to hit the golf ball off of a baseball tee (I think I need a helmet for that one next time). Watching people play through is as much fun as playing the holes, in my opinion, and many people do just drink on the sides and watch the melee go by.

Then, be sure to grab some grub and libations. The Culinary Amusement Park has a crazy array of foods, including toasties featuring cheese, brisket, Nutella, and veggies; nachos featuring chili, barbacoa, and beer cheese toppings; hot dogs served old-school, Coney, bahn mi, vegan, mac and cheese, and with bacon and cheese; salads; mini donuts (with a variety of toppings); Heggie’s pizzas and Hot Pockets after 10 at night; and snacks like cotton candy, popcorn, and pretzels. With two bars, the Main Bar and the Wee Bar, Bittercube has designed cocktails to sling with plenty of whimsy to be imbibed. There’s a carrot drink that comes in a terra cotta pot. Adult milkshakes to please the sweet tooth. Cereal-coated cocktails. Be prepared to smile at what comes (and passes by) your way.

Things to take note of before visiting include the hours, the location, the wait list, the activity level, and the willingness to let an experience take control of you. Can Can Wonderland is open Thursday through Sunday and shares a building with BlackStack Brewing, so parking is a bit competitive in the lots, but there’s plenty of room on the streets. The mini-golf course has a wait list, so be sure to get there early to get your name on it, then have some fun in the rest of the place. Be prepared for a lot of people, including kids, and plenty of noise, including the World’s Most Dangerous Polka Band (from Nye’s!) or variety shows and concerts. You can check Can Can Wonderland’s website for all of the activities to attend or aim for more quiet times on Thursday and Sunday afternoons if you’re not ready for a whole lot of busy-ness. And then let go when you get there.

There’s a very interesting business model here that is not often seen. It’s not a museum, nor is it a for-profit arcade and entertainment center. Those both have rather static attractions that are staid and predictable, with exhibits or features that switch out on occasion. It’s not only not a corporate chain restaurant, but it’s got amusement park food with drinks as fancy and frivolous as amusement park rides. It’s not a place with delineated rules and expectations, but it’s organized chaos with group tap dance lessons and balloon animals on the side. It’s a dream that’s been brought to fruition and I am so excited that it exists. There’s plenty of risk involved, but risk can bring reason. And that reason is that people will return to experience it differently every time.


Can Can Wonderland
755 Prior Ave. N, Suite #004
St. Paul
www.cancanwonderland.com

2017 New Restaurant Guide

In the past year, we’ve had a whole lot of turnover in the Twin Cities dining scene. Here is a fairly comprehensive list of the restaurants that have opened (or reopened as a new venture) as well as a few we can look forward to opening soon.

510 Lounge & Private Dining

Opening in the summer, the former La Belle Vie space will be reopened by Chef Don Saunders of The Kenwood. The Kenwood has smart design with great service and delicious food; I’m looking forward to seeing what transpires in this famous space.
510 Groveland Ave., Minneapolis
www.510mpls.com 

Augustine’s. Photo by Anthony Andersen

Augustine’s Bar & Bakery

A quiet opening last fall in an unassuming area of St. Paul, this bakery and restaurant on Selby by the same folks at The Happy Gnome is a welcome addition. The palm-festooned walls are welcoming, the drinks have been strong, and the Merguez sausage mac & cheese is so loaded as to be considered a casserole. Delish.
1668 Selby Ave., St. Paul
www.augustinesmn.com
 

Bad Waitress Northeast

Just like its original iteration on Nicollet, this new addition to the hopping ‘hood in Nordeast Minneapolis has nonexistent day service, which means you get to fill out your own ticket and be your own server. It’s fun, it’s cheeky, and this new space is downright gorgeous. Night turns to full-service and the menu expands from breakfast to include bar “snackies.”
700 Central Ave. NE, Minneapolis
www.thebadwaitress.com

Baja Haus

Just opened a few weeks ago, Billy Tserenbat, the guy who brought Sushi Fix to Wayzata, is shaking up the lakeside town with some south-of-the-border food and drinks. For fun foods and tequila to tip, add this to your summer destination list.
830 Lake St. E, Wayzata
www.bajahaus.com

Bar Brigade

J.D. Fratzke of The Strip Club Meat & Fish fame teamed up with Matty O’Reilly of Republic fame last year to open Red River Kitchen, and now brought us Bar Brigade which opened in the Luci Ristorante space at Cleveland and Randolph in St. Paul in March. A 40-seat space that’s been spruced up for French fare, the food is accompanied by a bar program put together by Tattersall’s Dan Oskey.
2060 Randolph Ave., St. Paul
www.barbrigade.com

Bellecour

Another lovely new restaurant to open in Wayzata is Chef Gavin Kaysen’s Bellecour. Fight for your reservations in these early months or go to the bakery like I did for a slice of some of pastry chef Diane Yang’s crepe cake that always brings me joy. Or do both. And grab some baked goods to go. That’s my plan for both immediate and delayed gratification.
739 Lake St. E, Wayzata
www.bellecourrestaurant.com

Bonicelli Kitchen

Chef Laura Bonicelli has turned a fresh meal delivery business into a brick-and-mortar restaurant with wine and beer. For the past nine years, people have been eating up her fine Italian meals. Now there’s a restaurant in which she makes every meal an experience to remember.
1839 Central Ave. NE, Minneapolis
www.bonicellikitchen.com

Bottle Rocket. Photo courtesy of Blue Plate Restaurant Company

Bottle Rocket

Opened on Valentine’s Day, Bottle Rocket in St. Paul brings us back to a time when we “played more, relaxed often, and worried less.” With a whole new branding and look, a menu of classics, and a kicked-up cocktail list, this space at St. Clair and Fairview that formerly housed Scusi is a new addition to the Blue Plate Restaurant Company family.
1806 St. Clair Ave. S, St. Paul
www.bottlerocketmn.com

Brake Bread Bakery

You may have seen or read about these guys in various media outlets as the bakery that delivers their subscription-based bread orders to its customers via bikes. So successful was this venture, Nate Houge and Micah Taylor of Brake Bread opened their own “brakery” in their beloved West End neighborhood of St. Paul where they also offer toast with plenty of toppings, cookies, coffee, and pastries. I recommend the cardamom twist. And I do not recommend taking the toast with Nutella to go because it’s too delicious a mess to handle as the Nutella melts while driving home.
1174 7th St. W, St. Paul
www.brakebread.com

Bull’s Horn Food & Drink

Bull’s Horn Food & Drink is causing a fair bit of buzz. Chef Doug Flicker of Piccolo and Esker Grove, with his wife, Amy Greeley who also paired up with him on Sandcastle at Lake Nokomis, have purchased the Sunrise Inn in South Minneapolis to give us something new to celebrate as Piccolo has closed. We’ll stay tuned for more details on this sure-to-be gem.
4563 S 34th Ave., Minneapolis

Cafe Alma. Photo by Eliesa Johnson

Restaurant and Cafe Alma

Restaurant Alma by Chef Alex Roberts closed for a stint to renovate and reopen as an Alma that includes a restaurant, café, and an intimate hotel. The design is swoon-worthy, the food is now available beyond what their former hours and bakery pop-ups had been, and we are thrilled to see such an evolution in this vibrant urban Minneapolis location.
528 University Ave. SE, Minneapolis
www.almampls.com

Dirty Bird

Nestled (get it? nest?) between his Upton 43 restaurant and Rose Street Patisserie in Linden Hills, Chef Erick Harcey has a grab-and-go chicken restaurant called The Dirty Bird. Take it from me, it’s a snap to order some chicken and sides (don’t forget the carrots…they’re stupid-good), grab a dessert from Rose Street to go, and then sit at the bar at Upton 43 for a drink while the food’s being prepared before taking your bundle of yum off to Lake Harriet for a picnic.
4312 Upton Ave. S, Minneapolis
www.dirtybirdmn.com

Dubliner Café

A place where I’ve spent many a night listening to Irish music, we can now grab some breakfast grub in the adjacent café space (which has been refurbished to the point of gleaming wood and vintage fixtures to beat all) or later-day eats in the bar, itself. I’ve had some great later-evening meals of sandwiches and burgers in the glow of the dart boards and neon ACE BAR sign at this old neighborhood steady on St. Paul’s University Avenue.
2162 University Ave., St. Paul
www.thedublinerpub.com

Erik the Red

Erik Forsberg opened up a Downtown Minneapolis eatery with Carolina barbecue and Nordic foods…which might be a marriage with a name change of Minnesota Barbecue. In the former Hubert’s space on Chicago Avenue, there are smorgasbords and smoked meats including slab bacon, turkey legs, short ribs, brisket, salmon, and lamb. I’ve got my eye on some mac & cheese and a lefse wrap.
601 Chicago Ave., Minneapolis
www.eriktheredbar.com

Esker Grove

Esker Grove is the Walker Art Center’s new restaurant, led by chef Doug Flicker and inspired by seasonal ingredients. The space is stunning, the food is gorgeous, and it’s a 2017 James Beard Foundation Semifinalist for Best New Restaurant.
723 Vineland Place, Minneapolis
www.eskergrove.com

Fitzgerald’s. Photo by Hubert Bonnet

Fitzgerald’s

I wrote my ode to this redux of The Salt Cellar concept on Cathedral Hill last year; it’s a place for all-day lounging, eating, and drinking. Chef Graham Messenger has pizzas, sandwiches, and entrées as well as a breakfast sandwich that’ll make me settle in for a long while. Grab a drink, watch a game, and be as leisurely as F. Scott Fitzgerald was when he was known simply as “Scott.”
173 Western Ave. N, St. Paul
www.fitzgeraldsstpaul.com

Glam Doll Donuts — NE Minneapolis

Glam Doll Donuts first opened on Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis in 2013, serving up donuts to dough-lovers morning, noon, and night. Now, at this new location on Central in Nordeast Minneapolis, we can not only get the diverse and delectable doughy treats we’ve come to know and love, but there are also a few savories available such as the “Belly Bomb,” which is a mac & cheese donut. Take it from me, this is worth the buzz. It’s got cheesy flavor and macaroni texture with a crunchy crust that’ll bring you back again and again.
519 Central Ave. NE, Minneapolis
www.glamdolldonuts.com

Herbie’s on the Park

If you have seen the sculpture of Herb Brooks by the Ordway, overseeing all the action in Rice Park in St. Paul, you’ll be able to find the new restaurant in the Minnesota Club, Herbie’s on the Park. It’s a social house with tavern fare and handcrafted cocktails perfect for the game or theater crowd.
317 Washington St., St. Paul
www.herbiesonthepark.com

Hi-Lo Diner. Photo by Hubert Bonnet

Hi-Lo Diner

Hi-Lo Diner, a retro diner on Lake Street in Minneapolis, is the place to find whimsical food envisioned anew as well as pulled from days of yore by Chef Heidi Marsh, with cocktails to beat the old grasshoppers of yesteryear. I’m a sucker for the Hi-Tops of donut discs with various toppings, not to mention they’ve got a killer burger.
4020 E Lake St., Minneapolis
www.hi-lo-diner.com

Jefe: Urban Hacienda

I have fond memories of walking along the riverfront in Minneapolis, getting hangrier and hangrier by the moment late last summer. Walking into Jefe for some Mexican street food and double-fisting some pineapple sodas as we waited for a table was the perfect salve for my hungry soul.
219 Main St. SE, Minneapolis
www.jefeminneapolis.com

JUN

JUN is exactly what the North Loop in Minneapolis needed: a Chinese restaurant where I’d rather eat-in than take-out. It’s a rare combination to find these days, but Jack Wang and Jessie Wong have created a gorgeous restaurant with respectable bar program to match their top-notch food. The pork-filled bao bao steamed buns and the scratch-made noodles that grace many of the entrées are superb, my favorites being the beef chow fun and spicy Sichuan dumplings.
730 N Washington Ave., Minneapolis
www.junnorthloop.com

Kata. Photo by John Leonard Mason

Kata Organic Cafe & Fitness Boutique

I’m not someone who gravitates to a place that advertises a fitness boutique with food attached, but let me assure you that this lovely casual restaurant in Linden Hills puts no pressure on to work off what we take in. The menu is more than spa food, the cookies are cheap, and I love having a walk-up option in one of the hotter food neighborhoods that is high-quality without too fancy a package. While there’s plenty to be enjoyed in the colder months at Kata, sidewalk dining has been divine, so I can’t wait to get out there again this season.
4279 Sheridan Ave. S, Minneapolis
www.katacafefitness.com

McKinney Roe

There’s a whole lot going on in the newly named East Town neighborhood of Downtown Minneapolis; not just the big Vikings stadium, but also great new eateries like McKinney Roe at ground level of the Wells Fargo tower. There’s a two-story dining room and expansive patio with food for a business meal, a special occasion, or as casual as a happy hour.
530 4th St., Minneapolis
www.mckinneyroe.com

Mercado by Earl Giles

Uptown’s got a new taco spot with both coffee and cocktails to boot at 29th and Lyndale. Mercado by Earl Giles has taken over the space formerly occupied by Marche and is accessible by foot, bus, car, and bike…thanks to its location overlooking the Greenway.
2904 Lyndale Ave. S, Minneapolis
www.facebook.com/MercadobyEarlGiles

Mercury Dining Room and Rail. Photo courtesy of Blue Plate Restaurant Company

Mercury Dining Room and Rail

Mercury Dining Room and Rail is a gorgeous new offering by the Blue Plate Restaurant Company in the space previously occupied by Brasserie Zentral in the Soo Line Building in Downtown Minneapolis. A longer bar, a lovely space, a delicious pimento cheese toast appetizer…and an event space (with a killer roof) called Shindig are just a few of the features that make this hotspot a must-stop.
505 Marquette Ave. S, Minneapolis
www.mercurympls.com

Mercy

I just attended the opening of this new restaurant and I can say that it breathed life anew into the former Marin space on Hennepin Avenue. Mercy is a revamp in look, feel, taste, and experience, headed up by Chef Mike Rakun. It’s another design by Shea that accomplishes more warmth and comfort in the upper level of the space as has been so loved in the Library Bar in the lower level…and the food and drink are just as comfy.
901 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis
www.mercympls.com

Pajarito

Chefs Tyge Nelson (La Belle Vie, the Inn, Chino Latino) and Stephan Hesse (Masu, Libertine) have flipped the old Glockenspiel on West 7th in St. Paul into a destination for upscale Mexican food. The space is open and airy, the “elote style” Brussels sprouts make me smile, the tacos and meats are savory with just enough spice, and the queso fundido is the most simple-but-ridiculously-delicious reason I’ll be heading there with frequency.
605 7th St., St. Paul
www.pajaritostp.com

PinKU. Photo by Sarah Sampedro

PinKU

A fine-casual Japanese restaurant, PinKU is giving street food some flair. A smaller menu is offered from an open kitchen where what you see is what you get…and you get some good stuff. Fresh, time-tested, delicious.
20 University Ave., Minneapolis
www.pinkujapanese.com

Popol Vuh & Central

Popol Vuh and Central are the two parts of a duo-restaurant concept being headed up by Lyn 65’s team. Chef Jose Alarcon Popol Vuh will be cooking Mayan cuisine and Central will be a counter-service taqueria.
712 15th Ave. NE, Minneapolis
www.popolvuhmpls.com

Punch Bowl Social

I don’t know if it’s the confit ribs or the pimento sandwiches that got me, but I’m in for this place, hook, line, and sinker. Even the hummus hits me just right. The West End place in St. Louis Park is abuzz with people playing games, bowling, eating, and getting their drink on, while also playing host to families and a superb non-alcoholic menu. Cardamom simple syrup is my kryptonite thanks to Punch Bowl Social.
1691 Park Place Blvd., St. Louis Park
www.punchbowlsocial.com/location/minneapolis

Randle’s Restaurant & Bar. Photo by Jason Merritt

Randle’s Restaurant & Bar

Randle’s Restaurant & Bar has taken over the former Ling & Louie’s location on Nicollet Mall in Downtown Minneapolis, named after the legendary Minnesota Viking’s defensive tackle, John Randle. Four floors of upscale sports bar and restaurant, you’ll find what you want at Randle’s.
921 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis
www.johnrandles.com

Red Rabbit

One of the hottest spots to open on Washington Avenue lately, Red Rabbit is a hit with pizza, pasta, and oysters. Brought to us by Luke Shimp of the Red Cow restaurants, it’s more of what he does so well: comfortable sophistication.
201 N Washington Ave., Minneapolis
www.redrabbitmn.com

Red River Kitchen

As a hybrid of food trucks, a brick-and-mortar seasonally open location at City House in St. Paul, and a great view on the Mississippi, Red River Kitchen at City House opened last summer to great applause. With J.D. Fratzke and Matty O’Reilly, there’s a winning team at the helm. Be sure to get over there as the weather turns warm for this season’s offerings, or catch a truck out and about.
258 Mill St., St. Paul
www.redriverkitchen.com

Revival St. Paul

Oh, Revival. You crossed the river and we all rejoiced. Not only does having a Revival in St. Paul (maybe) release the pressure valve for getting into the Minneapolis location, but there’s a more extensive menu (and takeout) in St. Paul as well as a bar with the full liquor offerings. I mean, I know I’m a St. Paul gal so I’m biased, but I think we won this round. In addition to the usual award-winning fried chicken, burgers, and sides, there are butter barbecue ribs here. Butterscotch pie. Pork belly like butter. Blessed be Chef Thomas Boemer and co-owner Nick Rancone.
525 Selby Ave., St. Paul
www.revivalfriedchicken.com

Rose Street Patisserie

John Kraus not only gave us Patisserie 46 in South Minneapolis, but he also opened up this Linden Hills stunner to rave reviews. While I go in there and ogle the architectural desserts and usually take some of them home (as well as macarons and the melt-in-your-mouth brownies), I’m also a fan of grabbing a quick lunch of a grilled cheese and side salad. Whereas Patisserie 46 is more hustle-and-bustle in close quarters, this location is full of space and air and light. My favorites.
2811 W 43rd St., Minneapolis
www.patisserie46.com/menu_item/rose-street

Shake Shack Mall of America

In a gorgeous new food court at the Mall of America, this northern version of Shake Shack gives us burgers, fries, and all the fixings that have been loved for a long time in other locales around the country (and the world). I fell in love with a miso caramel malt from the get-go.
332 North Garden at the Mall of America, Bloomington
www.shakeshack.com/location/mall-of-america

Spitz. Photo by Ian Bradley with Baker Brook Group

Spitz

Spitz brings Mediterranean street food to East Hennepin in Minneapolis. Similar to gyro, al pastor, and shawarma meat, döner kebab is a type of meat that is cooked on a vertical rotisserie and it reigns supreme at Spitz. Have it done a variety of ways, check out some kick-ass art on the walls, listen to some tunes, and grab some craft beer.
518 E Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis
www.spitzmn.com

Stewart’s

Stewart’s is a revamp of 128 Cafe near St. Thomas in St. Paul, with new menu items and a more prominent bar. Still serving up classic food for brunch, lunch, and dinner, the cocktails are also getting their due attention. I’m a fan of the steak tips, myself, but can find just about anything on the menu to please my palate.
128 Cleveland Ave., St. Paul
www.stewartsminnesota.com

Tenant

Tenant is a restaurant by chefs Cameron Cecchini and Grisha Hammes that’s planned to open in the old Piccolo space in South Minneapolis with very few seats and an ever-changing menu.
4300 Bryant Ave. S, Minneapolis
www.tenantmpls.com

The Lexington. Photo by TJ Turner

The Lexington

Revived by Josh Thoma, Jack Riebel, and Kevin Fitzgerald, The Lexington’s lights are back on, the kitchen is providing food for the well-dressed masses, and the staid and steady bar is serving up drinks for tippling. It’s a dinner club for Grand Avenue in St. Paul, with a throwback menu of names that include Diane, Gorbachev, and Stroganoff with plenty of steaks and even some liver and onions if you so choose.
1096 Grand Ave., St. Paul
www.thelexmn.com

Town Talk Diner & Gastropub

Town Talk Diner has taken on a new flavor under new ownership, focusing on a gastropub/modern American eatery menu. Located on Lake Street in Minneapolis, the lights of the iconic sign beckon diners to come inside for dinner or Sunday brunch made with locally sourced ingredients for a farm-to-table experience.
2707 E Lake St., Minneapolis
www.towntalkmpls.com

Tullibee

Tullibee is a design-centric restaurant in the Hewing Hotel on Washington Avenue in Minneapolis. Still finding its footing in the food world here, the kitchen will be handed over from Grae Nonas to Bradley Day and will still feature Nordic food and sensibilities. As for me, I love to drink in the ambience. As I sip a pint glass of coffee wrapped in a Faribault Woolen Mill Co. coffee sleeve.
300 Washington Ave. N, Minneapolis
www.hewinghotel.com

Up-Down

Okay, this is less about food as it is about a whole lot of drinks and over 60 beers on tap with a fantastic number of 50 arcade games from my childhood. Take my word for it that it’s a great first date locale. Sure, there’s pizza with unique toppings, but there’s also skee ball. Hold my drink.
3012 Lyndale Ave. S, Minneapolis
www.updownmpls.com
 

Xavi Restaurant. Photo by Matt Lien Photography

Xavi Restaurant

Located at 56th and Chicago in South Minneapolis, Xavi is a triumphant addition to the quiet neighborhood. When I can roll home happy and fed after just enjoying the pork belly appetizer, don’t even get me started about how pleased I was by the red curry braised short rib…and the almond cake that I got to go. Chef Michael Agan and front-of-house expert James Elm have a beauty of a spot at Xavi.
5607 Chicago Ave. S, Minneapolis
www.xavirestaurant.com

Young Joni

Believe all the good things you’ve heard and read about Young Joni. Ann Kim and Conrad Leifur of Pizzeria Lola and Hello Pizza, with their skilled staff, have done everything right at this new beautiful restaurant. There’s a speakeasy bar around back that is separate from the restaurant and a bit difficult to find, but it’s worth the hunt with a bar menu that differs from that in the restaurant. And then, if you can figure out how to get in the glass doors of the restaurant (I seem plagued by the doors of this place), find yourself the dry and canny server who made us laugh so hard and take all of her advice as to what to order. I know that the La Parisienne pizza with prosciutto, Gruyere, ricotta, brown butter, caramelized onion, and arugula will be the friend I go back to visit time and again…followed up with a platter of the Church Basement Cookie and Bar Plate with the best Special K bars ever.
165 13th Ave. NE, Minneapolis
www.youngjoni.com

Food & Dining: Fitzgerald’s

I was born in St. Paul, near the Capitol. My parents took my brother and me out to the country to raise us, but I am pretty sure I’ve been magnetically attracted to St. Paul my whole life. I can leave it, and I’ll come back to it.

While a wee lass in the country, I’d idealized a magical place called “Grand Avenue” where the buildings were old, the streetlights were streetlamps, and there was always ivy growing on brick walls. Its street blocks were probably scented like the Aspen Mulling spices that the Victorian Homes magazine always smelled like in the 1980s.

The Fitz burger: probably just as messy and tasty as Scott, himself.
The Fitz burger: probably just as messy and tasty as Scott, himself.

But, what I had yet to learn about was Cathedral Hill. Grand Avenue is grand, but Cathedral Hill has even more of what I wanted. Churches and business buildings and restaurants and shops all mixed in with houses that make me swoon. There are books published about these locations. There is a bus tour that shows us where the gangsters lived. There’s an air of romance to the whole neighborhood. And, there was a man who called this area home named F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of The Great Gatsby. A man for whom the newest restaurant at Western and Selby is named: Fitzgerald’s.

A soon-to-be-famous fried egg sandwich of bacon, egg, cheese, pickled onions, and harissa mayo on a Saint Agnes Baking Co. milk bun.
A soon-to-be-famous fried egg sandwich of bacon, egg, cheese, pickled onions, and harissa mayo on a Saint Agnes Baking Co. milk bun.

Everyone’s got a few versions of who they are, from more buttoned-up to playful to downright raucous. The idea behind this new bar and eatery is to present a restaurant that’s the more casual (yet still fully deserving of its place in the crown that is Cathedral Hill) version of something that’s become more of an ideal than a person. But lest we forget, F. Scott Fitzgerald was once Scott. This is where he might have caroused. It’s where he may have stayed long hours, eating good food and getting (or remaining) properly soused. It’s where I can imagine a man with a look on his face of someone who has been fed to great satisfaction. Okay, that was me. I’ve had that look. Twice.

A bowl of comfort, the pappardelle with Italian sausage and beef ragu.
A bowl of comfort, the pappardelle with Italian sausage and beef ragu.

You may remember the space as being the Salt Cellar, where steaks and tableside-made salads happened for a while. Much like the man for whom this new destination is named, the restaurant on the corner has reinvented itself. The team behind it has been a prolific one in St. Paul in recent years with restaurants including Public Kitchen + Bar, Handsome Hog, Ox Cart Ale House, and Eagle Street Grille. This one pulled some tremendous talent from Ox Cart to bring it to fruition: chef Graham Messenger and general manager Joe Paton. And the whole space has had some work done, both structurally and cosmetically. The team listened to what the neighborhood was asking for, and doubled the bar to become one large rectangle, added a bunch of hightop tables, and made a more clearly defined auxiliary area for more space or private dining if the large barn door is utilized to separate it from the majority of the restaurant. The space looks smart; it makes sense. I give high marks to the improvements.

Chef Graham Messenger with a grin and a glimmer.
Chef Graham Messenger with a grin and a glimmer.

While the neighborhood was asking for casual, we also know that it’s a neighborhood that expects things done well. The neighboring restaurants have set the bar pretty high for what goes at Western and Selby and we’re the ones who benefit from those standards. So, while you might be wandering in for a late lunch while watching the game, know that you can order bar food, and it will be so good.

The lunch and dinner entrées span from pizza to sandwiches to burgers to chicken and steak and fish dishes, while the brunch looks inviting with favorites like hash, bennies, omelets, or even ribs. I was able to get a few bites of the fried egg sandwich from the brunch menu and know that I will be back to explore more. All of the baked goods are from St. Paul’s own Saint Agnes Baking Co. and I’m a sucker for the egg sandwich on a milk bun with bacon, American cheese, a sweet and briny pickled red onion, and a harissa mayo that has more sweet than heat.

The perfectly executed french onion soup with crouton and gruyere.
The perfectly executed french onion soup with crouton and gruyere.

I can attest to eating some sumptuous dishes, myself. For starters, the jalapeño and cheddar croquettes are a reimagined version of poppers. These fried fingerlings of cheese and heat give the same mouth-feel as a conventional popper, with a much more satisfying center of cheese with the ambient flavor of jalapeño. Smear them through the swoosh of béchamel to make each bite more than you knew you wanted from a bar app.

If you’re more in the mood for soup or salad for your mealtime warmup, I recommend the french onion soup and wedge salad. The french onion soup is the standard and satisfying savory brown broth in a crock that is chock full of onions and croutons and oozy melted cheese. I took a picture of it to warm me up when I’ll need it in the upcoming winter months. And the wedge salad with red onion and sunflower seeds has the most inoffensive blue cheese dressing I’ve ever encountered. Not being a fan of blue cheese dressing, I was pleasantly surprised that the creamy base was absolutely delicious first, then punctuated by the crumbles of blue cheese second. I think this is a winner for those who both love and mildly dislike the funky stuff.

A salty Philly cheesesteak with house-made Cheez Whiz.
A salty Philly cheesesteak with house-made Cheez Whiz.

You’ve got a few options for how to approach your entrées. There are sandwiches and burgers, pizzas, and full-on entrées for your consideration. And I’ll be honest, of what I’ve tasted, you’ll find me hanging out in the sandwiches and burgers portion of the menu because that’s where I’m happiest. Oh, the pizza with Spanish chorizo and caramelized onion was delicious and the pappardelle with Italian sausage and beef ragu is very pleasing (the ragu could use a touch more garlic, methinks), but the stars of my constellation are the Philly cheesesteak and the Fitz burger. The cheesesteak is a salty, unctuous sandwich made with sliced ribeye and house-made Cheez Whiz, making it a glorious mess of a meal. And the Fitz burger has not only a well-salted, flavorful burger patty, but enough Russian dressing, cheese, and pickles-per-bite to make anyone say, Big Mac who?

The pizza with sweet caramelized onions and spicy chorizo.
The pizza with sweet caramelized onions and spicy chorizo.

Finally, for dessert, you may not have many options, but you have good ones. There’s Izzy’s ice cream and then there are a few selections that Chef Graham is quick to point out were concepted by Cheyenne Broughton of one of the other restaurants in the family, Handsome Hog. They needed to be good and they needed to be doable in the fast-quality environment and they pulled that off with aplomb.

Chocolate brownie with ice cream and cocoa sauce; and cocktails called the St. Paul Sour with rye, red wine, lemon, egg white, and amaro.
Chocolate brownie with ice cream and cocoa sauce; and cocktails called the St. Paul Sour with rye, red wine, lemon, egg white, and amaro.

The chocolate brownie comes in slabs that defy reason in that they’re so soft and gooey but still retain their structure. With a dark cocoa sauce, toasted nuts, some crisps (that are actually called feuilletine, but let’s not get too fancy), the dessert is a hit for those who love the cacao. I’m the one who’ll be hoarding the cranberry custard all for myself. I’m a goon for the puddings and flans and crème brûlée and pots de creme, but this is actually a posset and I could not be happier to add that word to my lexicon. And daily diet. A fine, smooth pudding with a hint of cranberry is the light-pink base that carries a bit of compote and brown salty-sweet crumbles. (Not to be confused: Graham’s the chef; the flavorful topping is brown-butter streusel. You’re welcome.)

Cranberry custard with brown-butter streusel and cranberry compote.
Cranberry custard with brown-butter streusel and cranberry compote.

If you’re stopping in for a drink around the massive rectangular bar, be sure to check out one of the many beers on tap. The cocktails were concocted and give both playful ingredients and flavors as well as location-centric names. And, I’m happy to report, that they were more than happy to provide on-the-spot non-alcoholic drinks for me as a non-drinker when I said I’d like “something tasty with ginger.” Next time, I’ll probably try “something delicious with cherry” or something equally ambiguous because I know they’ll give me something good.

When I asked Chef Graham what was different between what he had been making at Ox Cart Ale House and Fitzgerald’s, he said that in addition to the local ingredients being similar in importance, so is the speed of execution. Ox Cart is positioned near the baseball stadium in Lowertown and required fast foods including sausages. The concept up the hill at Fitzgerald’s maintains the fast foods that rely heavily on the prep but are able to be completed and plated quickly. So, even though I might joke about moving in and taking over a table or booth for an afternoon, know that you can get in and out easily if you need to. It’s a neighborhood joint that wants to make the people happy, whether you’re lingering like Fitz or on your way elsewhere, but want a good meal in your belly in the meanwhile.

Reason for Regions with tequila, chartreuse, blood orange liquor, and lemon; and Brandy, You're a Fine Girl with brandy, blood orange liquor, and lemon.
Reason for Regions with tequila, chartreuse, blood orange liquor, and lemon; and Brandy, You’re a Fine Girl with brandy, blood orange liquor, and lemon.

Fitzgerald’s is already proving itself to be a popular addition to the neighborhood with the crowds I’ve seen packed in there so far. I wish the team well and am happy to welcome it to the grand collection of restaurants at that intersection. Leave time for parking, save room for the custard, and I’ll see you on the Hill.


Fitzgerald’s
173 Western Ave, St. Paul
www.fitzgeraldsstpaul.com
651-219-4013

Recipe: Pride Pasta

Lavender Media Pride Pasta Recipe

June is Pride Month and I just love a good reason to try out some artistic recipes. In the past, Lavender has featured Pride recipes by Ross Sveback and I hope you go back to find them here and here. There are recipes for Skittles flavored vodka, the original rainbow layer cake, rainbow mini donuts, rainbow bread, unicorn poop cookies, and all sorts of other things. This year, I wanted to find something that was both brilliant in color and brilliant in execution. A no-fail, no-talent recipe. You see, I’m not trained to do this. I just hope to not lose a finger when I’m cooking and filming at the same time. So, I hope you find this as easy to execute and serve as I did. It’s a delight to see how people react to Pride Pasta. It’s hard not to smile.

I chose fettuccine noodles for this recipe, rather than other forms of pasta. You’ll see at the end that they remind me of ribbons and show a bit more color than a spaghetti or linguine version, being wider and having more surface area. I also tried different sauces for the rainbow-colored pasta, and the trick is to use a clear sauce or dressing, because anything white or opaque, like alfredo sauce, ended up taking on some of the color that eventually migrates from the noodles. Also, choosing a chunky mozzarella cheese with black olives was deliberate, to help show a sharp contrast and make the noodles “pop” more; other cheeses would have dulled the appearance of the whole presentation and too many add-ins could also detract and change the color composition. I would, though, recommend slicing the olives because leaving them whole as I did here was mostly a pain in the neck when it came time to actually eat the dish with a fork…they looked good whole, but rolled around and avoided the fork in that form.

When testing the storage and transport of this dish, I’d recommend eating it within four hours of tossing it together. If you’re taking it to a potluck, cook and color the noodles at home but try to compose the salad on site. But, if you need to transport it composed, it should be fine and not mix too many of the colors when the noodles move and get jostled. I threw one set of noodles with dressing, olives, and cheese into a resealable bag and took it to my cabin with me. All of that movement didn’t change the presentation too much that first day, but on the second day a few of the colors were transferring between the different noodles and the white of the mozzarella chunks were graffiti-ed with stripes of color that made them look like confetti. So, while the recipe will last for days in the refrigerator and still taste good and look colorful, I’d recommend consuming it the same day you throw it all together. Carb-load for all of those Pride activities and have a wonderful time celebrating this community.

Pride Pasta
Ingredients:
1 package fettuccine noodles
salt for water
liquid food coloring
1 cup Italian dressing (add more to taste)
mozzarella cheese (cut into chunks)
black olives (sliced is preferable)

6 quart-sized resealable bags
2 tablespoons water
paper towels

Instructions:
Bring a pot of water to a full boil. Add salt and fettuccine to water and stir, fettuccine tries to stick together. Do not add olive oil to the water if you normally might, because the oil will affect the coloring process later on. Allow the noodles to cook anywhere from 7 minutes (as recommended on the package) to 16 minutes (which is my preference). Drain and run cold water on the noodles to cool and rinse away some of the starch.

Add 2 tablespoons of water to each of the six quart-sized resealable bags. Then, add the following for the six colors of the Pride flag:
Red: 20 drops coloring
Orange: 15 drops yellow coloring, 5 drops red coloring
Yellow: 20 drops yellow coloring
Green: 20 drops green coloring
Blue: 20 drops blue coloring
Purple: 15 drops red coloring, 5 drops blue coloring

Split the pasta into 6 sections and put a section of pasta into each bag, being sure to seal it securely. Then, mix the coloring and noodles together for a minute before setting each bag aside for 5 minutes or so.

Section by section, give each bag one last mix before dumping the pasta into a strainer in the sink. Run water on the pasta to rinse the color away, feel free to really agitate it with your hands…the fettuccine is pretty sturdy.

Remove pasta from the strainer and onto a paper towel. Blot with another paper towel to try to remove as much liquid as possible. If there’s still a lot of color bleeding off of it, put it back into the strainer to rinse longer.

Repeat with each color of pasta, being sure to rinse the strainer completely between colors.

For assembly, feel free to leave the noodles in their colored sections or mix them up as I did in the video. Either way, they’re playful and brilliant. Add things to the pasta, but in the case of all these colors, remember that less is more. Enjoy. And Happy Pride, friends.

Video:

Recipe: Pride Pasta – Lavender Magazine from Lavender Magazine on Vimeo.

Special thanks to Tablespoon for the recipe and tutorial that taught me how to make this great dish.

Recipe: Bacon Granola

Bacon Granola

You read that right: bacon granola. Last year, I was surprised by how easy it is to make granola rather than buy it. What’s more, there are countless ways to modify your homemade granola, from adding a cup of coconut or seeds or nuts or dried fruit or even chocolate as it’s cooling. So, of course, I wondered about the food of the millennium: bacon. Sure, you can always fry up some bacon and crumble it into your own purchased granola, but here’s a way to get a bit more of that bacon flavor into more of the granola while also getting some of the sweet of the honey onto the bacon. It’s a marriage of the salty and sweet, smoky and oatsy. And, I’d skip adding any of the other tasty bits like nuts or fruit unless you also increase some of the honey and oil, which is difficult to do while also balancing the bacon flavor.

So, with very few ingredients, you’ll have a delicious batch of bacon granola. Be sure to use thick bacon, as the thinly sliced bacon just cooks (and tend to burn) too quickly for the rest of the oats mixture to keep up and brown to a crisp. Also, take the pro tip from me, throwing two slices of bacon into the freezer makes for much easier cutting than when it’s at a temperature that’s closer to room temp…a solid fat and meat makes for a cleaner cut than the rubbery fat and meat. Then, be sure to let the sliced pieces of bacon thaw before adding to the granola mixture and putting in the oven.

The resulting granola is crispy with a nice bacon flavor with actual bits of bacon throughout. It’s not a granola that clumps together well, be sure to scroll down for the egg white version if you’d prefer your granola to stick together in clumps.

Bacon Granola
Ingredients:
3 cups oatmeal (not instant)
1/3 cup oil (vegetable or canola)
3/4 cup honey
2 tsp cinnamon
2 slices thick bacon (frozen for slicing, be sure to thaw before baking)
1 tsp coarse salt

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Put a piece of parchment paper on a baking sheet with edges. Mix together the ingredients. Perhaps you want to slice the frozen bacon first, mix together the rest, and add the thawed pieces at the end, but be sure to also make salt the last (or second-to-last) addition so that it doesn’t start dissolving. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven, stir it around so that the fat that starts baking out of the bacon is spread around for the rest of the granola to crisp up in, and return the pan to the oven for another 20 minutes. Remove it from the oven, allow to cool, break apart the granola, and store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator. I’ve done everything from storing it in a resealable bag to using a pretty jar, but it never lasts long enough for the design of the storage receptacle to matter.

Egg White Version:
This recipe will result in a nice granola that isn’t too greasy, but also doesn’t clump together all that well. If you’d like to end up with a bacon granola that clumps together a bit more, it’ll also take a bit more time and effort. In addition to the ingredients and directions above, whisk one egg white and add it to the mix. After baking it for 35 minutes at 325 with stirring once in the middle of the baking time, lower the heat to 275 and “dry” it for about 20 minutes longer. It should be a clumped-together granola; skipping the drying step results in granola bites that seem a bit chewy and cakey due to the added egg white. Store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator.

Non-Bacon Granola Version:
And if you’d prefer a baconless granola, it’s a very versatile recipe. Preheat to 300, mix together the same ingredients above but use ½ cup of oil, add nuts or seeds or fruit, and bake for 35 minutes with a stir after the first 20 minutes. Store in an air-tight container at room temperature.

Video:

Recipe: Bacon Granola from Lavender Magazine on Vimeo.

Food & Dining: How To Harbor View

Destination dining. Will travel for food. Just give me a reason and I’m in the car, on my way. When the cold is over and ice is gone, I’m often aiming my car toward the “West Coast” of Wisconsin along the Great River Road that hugs the Mississippi. If I go down to Winona on the Minnesota side and cross over to Wisconsin to make a large loop back up to the Twin Cities, I’ll stop to enjoy a burger at The Monarch in Fountain City, a coffee and ice cream at Hotel DeVille in Alma (soon to have a new restaurant, The Empire Room!), a blueberry ice cream cone and some take-home cheese at the Nelson Creamery in Nelson, and a meal at the Harbor View Cafe in Pepin. OK, maybe not all in one day…but, OK, maybe. Or, if I start from the north and go south, there’s always brunch at Chef Shack in Bay City (opening for the season the weekend after this issue comes out), baked goods from the Smiling Pelican Bakeshop in Maiden Rock, all sorts of delicious options at The Stockholm Pie Company in Stockholm, followed by a meal at Harbor View Cafe in Pepin. The Great River Road: destination dining at its finest.

Lake Pepin.
Lake Pepin.

You may have noticed that I mentioned Harbor View Cafe in Pepin twice. Because it’s always on the list. I’ve been there for both lunch and dinner and heartily recommend both. It’s a tremendously popular dining spot for people from the Twin Cities, so much so, that we’re always looking around for people we know there. A path has been worn between here and there, and here are some tips for the trip.

A place to slow down and take your time.
A place to slow down and take your time.

Enjoy the ride and see the sights.

One of the best parts about dining in Pepin, Wisconsin, is getting there. I’ve already talked about how I tend to make plenty of stops on my pilgrimage to Harbor View Cafe, but there’s also plenty to be enjoyed if you’re driving straight there and back. The views, the curves, the topography. Gosh, I love the sensual and subtle differences of traveling along the river, with bluffs and drops and diversity. One of the questions you have to consider is how you want to get there and back and much of the answer might have to do with what else is going on that weekend. This particular mid-April trip coincided with a Flood River Run that went from Prescott to Winona and involved countless motorcyclists who formed what was a parade at parts and a parking lot at others. Other trips have coincided with the weekend of 100 Miles of Garage Sales with some slow-moving traffic that stops frequently or the Fresh Art Tour that invites us to tour open art galleries along Lake Pepin. Stop and smell the flowers (or art or garage sales or motorcyclists) or feel free to take a faster, two-lane highway route via the Minnesota side, crossing over at Wabasha to Nelson and looping North to avoid the slower traffic. However you do it, skip the stress and get there with plenty of ease. Your stomach and taste buds will thank you.

The Hereford beef tenderloin served "Oliver Hardy" style.
The Hereford beef tenderloin served “Oliver Hardy” style.

Get your name on the list and relish the wait.

Harbor View Cafe doesn’t take reservations, but don’t you fret. You can get your name on the list and enjoy your wait if you get there early enough in the day. No, seatings don’t go on all day (if you’re there as part of the lunch crowd) or night (with the supper rush) as the hours only go so late, so checking the hours for that particular day and meal as well as getting there on the early side are important. But, take it from me and my experience this past Saturday, you can get there at 4:00, put your name on the list for the 4:45 opening, and get in on the first seating. They’re such pros with their process that the seating was handled like a roll call and smiles were abundant. It’s not even disappointing to get there after they open and learn of a long wait. Last August, when told that there was an hour and a half wait, the answer was to happily add my name to the list, go wander down by the harbor at the river, come back to the Cafe, get some wine (and coffee for me), and sit in the adirondack chairs to listen to some live music as we sipped our libations and waited for our table. The town and view make for a lovely setting to be mindful of our surroundings and slow down a bit.

The Berkshire braised pork shank with mashed root vegetables and kale.
The Berkshire braised pork shank with mashed root vegetables and kale.

Check the menu on Facebook.

The menu changes every day for each meal. Perhaps they were pioneers of the chalkboard menu movement, as that’s the only way you can learn of what’s coming out of the kitchen, with one chalkboard in each of the two dining areas. There are sample menus on the website, but refer to the photo posts on their Facebook page for each day’s specific offerings. I’ve enjoyed the coq au vin and Swedish meatballs at various times over the years, but actually look forward to visiting the Berkshire pork shank as if it were an old friend. That each entrée comes with a side of soup or salad is only a bonus and a delicious throwback to the less à la carte days of small plates and shareables.

That doesn’t mean I don’t share. I do. Especially if you order something I want to taste. It’s just that these are full-on entrées that pack a punch as far as servings are concerned. If you order more than an entrée per person, be prepared to take some home, something which only allows the delight to linger longer. Actually, because I save room for dessert, I end up taking home some shank-to-go anyhow. It’s all about strategy. This time, our dinner dabbling included the aforementioned shank that comes with golden and creamy mashed root vegetables as well as zingy kale, the Hereford beef tenderloin grilled “Oliver Hardy” style and smothered in mushrooms with accompanying asparagus and mashed potatoes, and the stuffed mushrooms that had cheese for days and came with a garlicky linguine. Each entrée came with a side salad or soup, so we made our way through a caesar salad, a garden salad with peppercorn dressing, and a curried cauliflower soup, all of which were pleasing…and filling.

The coveted almond cake covered with whipped cream and lingonberries.
The coveted almond cake covered with whipped cream and lingonberries.

Save room for dessert. Or, just save a dessert.

I learned something long ago at Harbor View, and that’s if you ask really nicely, they’ll set aside a dessert for you. I didn’t come upon this information organically, it didn’t pop into my head one day, but I was talking over dessert options with my companion when the server said, “You know, if you’re thinking about the almond cake, you might want me to set one aside for you. Those go fast.” And we did. And the almond cake and I have been in love ever since. So, this time, like a pro, maybe even before I sat down, I asked for a piece of almond cake to be set aside for dessert. And I don’t regret it one bit. And, hours later, I might have had a self-righteous grin on my face when I was informed that the groans of disappointment from the nearby table were in response to being told that the last piece of almond cake had just been sold and they had to order something else. It’s that good.

As are the rest of the desserts. But, because my heritage is Nordic and we tend to daub almond extract behind our ears instead of perfume, the almond cake sings a siren song to me, with its chewy texture, whipped cream relief, and lingonberry accent. The sticky toffee cake is my second favorite dessert from the menu, followed by the caramel custard and the bittersweet chocolate torte. Really, there’s no loser, even if you miss out on the almond cake. In this case, a miss doesn’t necessarily mean a loss.

The season is new, the months ahead of us are many. Make your plans and take your trip to Harbor View Cafe in Pepin, Wisconsin. Take it easy, get dessert, bring home leftovers, and don’t forget to take in the view.

Harbor View Cafe
314 First Street
Pepin, Wisconsin
www.harborviewpepin.com

New Not-to-Miss Restaurants

Lavender comes out with a new issue every two weeks, each one covering a new restaurant or food and drinking topic in some way, shape, or form. In a place like the Twin Cities, a hotbed of culinary delight, we do our best to keep up. To that end, I want to shine the light on a few of the places that have opened recently that you should know about and what I find to be enchanting about each of them.

The Commodore Bar & Restaurant
The Commodore Bar & Restaurant

Cathedral Hill Gem:
The Commodore Bar & Restaurant
St. Paul
www.thecommodorebar.com

Brought to us by the same group that has W.A. Frost and Company, the University Club of Saint Paul, the Saint Paul Athletic Club, and Stout’s Island Lodge, Commonwealth Properties has gifted us with a gleaming gem: The Commodore Bar & Restaurant. The Commodore opened as a hotel in 1920 and is now condominiums. Though the space for the restaurant and bar had been used for private events over the years, the recent overhaul of the art deco bar and restaurant seating in its first floor has brought it back to life for the public. Hailing a time when F. Scott Fitzgerald lived within its walls and bootlegging was a thing, the drinks are made with Gatsby in mind and the spirits all come from within “bootlegging distance,” so, they’re local. I recommend gussying up and getting reservations for the dining room, or bellying up to the bar for the Commodore Burger with gruyere and fries.

Estelle's Eatery & Bar
Estelle’s Eatery & Bar

Day Trip Delight:
Estelle’s Eatery & Bar
Harmony, Minnesota
www.facebook.com/estelleseatery

A day trip that tends to be common among Lavender readers is a jaunt down toward Lanesboro. Or, some make a weekender out of it, hitting the Root River Trail, some antique shops, as well as one of the many gay-owned bed and breakfasts in the area — something that I recommend highly, as do I recommend going a little further south to Harmony, for Estelle’s. In a small town that’s known for having the biggest Amish community in Minnesota, there is this new eatery (opened in July 2015) that won me over in moments. The decor is both light and rustic, the people are friendly, and the food is superb. I’d heard that the duo behind the restaurant, Matt Brown and Heidi Harstad, had experience at Travail, Pig Ate My Pizza, the Rookery, and Haute Dish, so to say that the squash soup that changed my life started as a bowl of food bits and a puff of cotton candy that was dissolved by the soup as it was poured over it is neither a surprise nor an oddity. That it tasted so good was downright staggering, though. The sandwiches, salads, and desserts we devoured all had the same effect on us: they made us smile and wish for more…as did learning from our server, a lifetime friend of Heidi’s, that the restaurant is named for Brown and Harstad’s infant daughter. A delight of a place.

Handsome Hog
Handsome Hog

Blue Ribbon Reno:
Handsome Hog
St. Paul
www.handsomehog.com

One of the most impressive renovations in recent history is this newcomer to Mears Park in St. Paul, Handsome Hog. What had been Bin Wine Bar, a not-unattractive space itself, has been completely redone to become a sophisticated, savvy setting for a contemporary Southern restaurant. While I’m handing out blue ribbons for design, let me also say that it’s “Some Pig” that Chef Justin Sutherland’s putting out. Open for lunch, dinner, and late-night noshes, the Handsome Hog has all the bases covered from cocktails to charcuterie to entrées to dessert. My non-hog personal favorites included the Chicken N Waffles (rosemary and pear-infused waffles, buttermilk fried chicken, honey cayenne butter, and bourbon maple syrup), Hushpuppies (made with crawfish, roasted corn, and smoked green tomato relish), the Beef Short Rib (with potato wedges, mustard greens, smoked trumpet mushrooms, and pickled watermelon rind) and a decadent dessert of Smoked Peaches & Cream (vanilla cremeux, grilled peaches, smoked candied almonds, peach ice cream, and smoked almond milk). And that I can hit it up before or after a Saints game via the Green Line LRT is only a bonus. It’s a renovation for not only that space, but for the food scene over at Mears Park.

Heirloom
Heirloom

Neighborhood Newbie:
Heirloom
St. Paul
www.heirloomstpaul.com

The Merriam Park neighborhood of St. Paul has been hankering for a place like Heirloom. Some have called it a restaurant desert, I’d just call it ripe for the planting. Living fairly close to this newcomer, I want to give a heart-felt welcome to the place that’s dishing up what they call “modern farmhouse cuisine.” Chef Wyatt Marsh is taking what is seasonal and both serving and saving it; giving us what’s fresh in spring and summer as well as preserving it for fall and winter. I like the concept, I like the execution. The service has been earnest, the space is inviting and I’m looking forward to my brunch reservations there this weekend. For supper, I’ll tell you that while I ate my way through a fair portion of the menu, my short list includes the must-have Parsnip Custard (with pearl onions and mushroom and parsnip chips), the Ricotta Gnocchi (with N’duja sausage, bitter greens, and duck egg), the Pork Jowl (with sweet potato puree, sour cabbage, and cranberry) and the Carrot Cake.

Hi-Lo Diner
Hi-Lo Diner

Retro Import:
Hi-Lo Diner
Minneapolis
www.hi-lo-diner.com

The newest Pennsylvania import to Minnesota is the 1957 Fodero diner on Lake Street, called the Hi-Lo Diner. I was able to buzz in there on their second day of business and taste for myself what they’ve got going on in that sleek, silver fox of a restaurant. Be sure to order one of their boozy shakes or other cocktails and then settle in for their signature Hi-Tops: fried dough with your choice of toppings. What’s basically a donut disc becomes a vehicle for their cheeky and tasty interpretations of pop-culture nods like the Gary Coop-er (topped with buttermilk fried chicken, maple-bourbon syrup, country gravy, and micro arugula) and the Kim Jong Yum (topped with braised Korean short rib, simple glaze, apple-bacon slaw, and wasabi micro-greens), which will be my go-to Hi-Top. Be sure to also try The Commercial (a white cheddar biscuit smothered with prime rib, beef gravy, whipped potatoes, horseradish cream sauce, and scallions) and the Crispy Chicken Sandwich (with apple-bacon slaw, Hi-Lo pickles, and garlic aioli). Brought to us by James Brown and Mike Smith of Forage Modern Workshop and Brownsmith Restoration, along with Pat McDonough and Jeremy Woerner of The Blue Door Pub(s), I have no doubt that this Hi-Lo venture will also succeed.

Mucci's Italian
Mucci’s Italian

Comfort Food Memory:
Mucci’s Italian
St. Paul
www.muccisitalian.com

There was a time when I’d drive down Randolph Avenue in St. Paul to get to a former favorite called the Mildred Pierce Cafe. Time passed, the restaurant didn’t make it, and it became a fond memory. Today, thanks to the opening of Mucci’s Italian, I can make the same trip and end up with a new and improved destination with its own food memories, brought to us by way of Tim Niver and Chef Chris Uhrich. Niver also owns The Strip Club Meat & Fish as well as Saint Dinette, and this new venture will undoubtedly be as successful, if the lines at opening are to be any indication (they don’t take reservations so arrive for opening or prepare to wait…and it’s so very worth it). Listen carefully to the daily specials (the pasta with lamb meatballs, wild mushrooms and kalamata olives was lip-smackingly good), but be keen on what’s laid out before you in the menu. The deep-fried pizza dough delivers savory flavors (trust me that the Kenzie Jo with crème fraîche, pears, pecans, pancetta, mozzarella, and red wine reduction is even better the next day) and the Brussels sprouts are killer. Get the Tiramisu. It looks like a slab from your grandma’s 9 x 13 aluminum pan, and it could very well be, if your grandma could make Tiramisu this good. Mucci’s is comfort food at its finest.

St. Genevieve
St. Genevieve

Joie de Vivre:
St. Genevieve
Minneapolis
www.facebook.com/stgenevieve

South Minneapolis has gained another fine restaurant by Steven Brown of Tilia; this time, the former Lynn on Bryant space has been transformed into a welcoming French oasis, St. Genevieve. When I arrived on an unseasonably warm spring day, I was seated in the sun next to an open window, happy to be basking. I could have sat there for hours. Wait. I did sit there for hours. The sun went down, the floor-to-ceiling windows were closed, the ambiance changed to be more lively as the volume went up, contained by the walls and windows. The menu offered up a number of options; my favorites were the small plate of Leeks (braised and topped with truffle vinaigrette, speck, and parmesan), the Ribeye Tartine (with grilled ramps and wheatberry), the Pork Tenderloin (with cheese grits, celeraic remoulade, onion puff, and pork belly), and my first rhubarb of the season on a Crème Fraîche Panna Cotta (with cardamom shortbread). Sparkling drinks flow, the staff is convivial and I drank in the joie de vivre. What more could I want? Je ne sais pas.

Recipe: Red Velvet Waffles for Two

Red Velvet Waffle

Red velvet cake has given us such wonderful flavors and dessert options. The chocolatey cake with cream cheese frosting and that hint of red (or smack across the face of red) is both alluring and delicious. So, why not make them into a breakfast or brunch food? Decadence.

As with most things in life, the trick to these babies isn’t in what’s in them, but how they look. You’ve got to add a whole lot of red food coloring (pretty much a whole little squirt bottle unless you’re using gel coloring) and to make them perfect for a heart-shaped waffler like this beauty from Cucina Pro, you have to add enough batter to fill the spaces or else you end up giving the love of your life (or morning) an incompletely gesture of your affection with a misshapen heart. So, feel free to double this batch of batter to leave room for errors. The weird-looking waffles will save well in a bag in the freezer for whenever you want to pull them out and throw them in the toaster at a later date when perfectly shaped waffles aren’t crucial.

Total Time: 40 min
Prep: 20 min
Cook: 20 min
Yield: 2 servings


Ingredients:
Cream Cheese Glaze:
3 ounces cream cheese, softened to room temp
3 tablespoons butter, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup milk

Red Velvet Waffles:
1 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
1 egg
1 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
1 tablespoon liquid red food coloring
1 cup flour
1/8 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 – 1 tablespoon cocoa powder (I prefer more cocoa)
1/2 teaspoon table salt

Nonstick cooking spray

Directions
Make the cream cheese glaze first. It’s important to really be sure that both the cream cheese and butter are soft before you start this process or there will be little lumps, I guarantee it. But it tastes so good that if someone complains, just don’t let them have any. Win-win. With an electric mixer, whip the cream cheese and butter until smooth and fluffy. Then add the powdered sugar, vanilla, and milk and mix until smooth. Set aside.

For the waffles, whisk together the dry ingredients in a bowl and set aside. In a larger bowl, beat the buttermilk, melted butter, egg, vanilla, vinegar, and food coloring together until smooth. Add the dry ingredients to the buttermilk mixture and whisk or beat until smooth.

Heat a waffle iron according to the manufacturers’ instructions. Using this Cucina Pro Waffler made it easy for me to know when it was ready because it whistles like a teapot when it’s hot enough. The dog was a little startled by this at first, but that function is particularly handy as I’m multi-tasking and making bacon and eggs for the rest of the brunch. Choose a darkness setting that matches your taste; I went for the middle setting so that the waffles didn’t brown, because I wanted the red color to stay vibrant. Spray the waffle iron with nonstick cooking spray and then spray a 1/2 cup measuring cup with cooking spray as well, so it’s easier to get more batter from the bowl to the iron. Pour the batter into the waffle iron and cook until the waffler whistles (or about 3 minutes if you’re winging it without the audio clues.

Remove the waffle, drizzle (or douse) with the cream cheese glaze, and enjoy your brunch.

Video:

Red Velvet Waffles for Two – Lavender Magazine from Lavender Magazine on Vimeo.

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Recipe: Spaghetti Squash Casserole

Spaghetti Squash Cover

The only thing heavy about this recipe is the amount of garlic it calls for; the rest makes for a light and comforting side dish. Once you have the cooked and cooled squash, putting it together and baking it until browned is a snap. The biggest decision you’ll have to make is how to cook the squash before assembling the casserole. I’ve done it three ways: microwave with water, cooking it in the oven with water, and roasting it in the oven. I chose to roast it for the purpose of this recipe in order to see if I could use the nice All-Clad all-in-one pan for every step. It worked wonderfully, and I had plenty of time for the roasting as it kept my loft nice and toasty. Oftentimes, roasting vegetables brings out a more robust and sweet flavor, but roasting the spaghetti squash didn’t have the same result, in my opinion. So, if you’re pressed for time, feel free to put the halves of the squash in a microwave-safe dish with an inch of water and microwave for 12-15 minutes, or until the squash is soft when you pierce it with a fork.

As far as the issue of fresh garlic versus powdered garlic, I’ve used both in this recipe and the garlic powder gives it greater consistency in flavor. If you choose to use fresh garlic, be sure to load it up with quite a few cloves. And be sure everyone eats some of it so that you all have the same garlic breath.

Spaghetti Squash Casserole

Roasting Spaghetti Squash:
Cut spaghetti squash in half.
Scoop out seeds.
Coat exposed squash with olive oil.
Roast in 425-degree oven for 1 hour – 1.5 hours, until soft.
Cool in freezer until you can handle it and scrape out the squash flesh.

Ingredients:
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 large egg
1/2 – 1 tablespoon garlic (depending on taste…I prefer a whole tablespoon)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2-2.5 cups cooked spaghetti squash

Instructions:
Whisk together the yogurt, egg, and seasonings.
Add cheese and cooked squash.
Spray pan with cooking spray.
Spread mixture in pan and even it out.
Bake at 400 degrees for 40-45 minutes, until browned.

Recipe adapted from Healthy Recipes Blog.

Video:

Recipe: Spaghetti Squash – Lavender Magazine from Lavender Magazine on Vimeo.

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Recipe: Dutch Baby Pancake

Dutch Baby

Also called pannekoeken, dutch babies are a cross between a souffle and a baked pancake (and sometimes just called a baked pancake). Some people decide to use a blender to whip up the batter, others find that a whisk works just fine. I usually choose what leaves me with the fewest dishes to wash. Whisk it is.

The tricks with a dutch baby are making sure that the oven is preheated to 425 degrees and the pan is also preheated by melting butter in it on the stovetop (or in the preheating oven). Be sure to coat the pan with butter all the way up the sides since the delightful thing puffs well past the edges. And, be mindful that your pan can withstand the heat of 425 degrees. This Lagostina beauty handled it like a pro.

Choose whatever toppings you like, the most traditional version is to use butter, powdered sugar, and a few squeezes of lemon. In this video, I chose Nutella and whipped cream with chocolate shavings. It works for both a breakfast and dessert. Or anything you want it to be.

Dutch Baby Pancake
Ingredients:
3 tablespoon butter
3 eggs
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup sugar

Instructions:
Melt butter on medium heat on stove top or in preheating oven.
Tip pan and swirl to coat sides with melted butter.
Mix together ingredients; either whip in a blender or whisk in a bowl.
Pour batter into pan immediately before putting in oven.
Bake at 425 for 20 minutes.

Video:

Recipe: Dutch Baby – Lavender Magazine from Vimeo.

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Maxwell & Williams Oriental Blossom 16 Piece Dinnerware Set ($139.99): Soft and sophisticated, classic and innovative, Oriental Blossom Dinnerware is the best of both worlds. Blue and white styling showcases flowers in bloom. The Dinnerware Set includes 4 pieces of each: dinner plate, side plate, soup/salad bowl and mug.

Fitz and Floyd Numbers Canister Small ($14.99) and Bistro Black Set/ 4 Number Appetizer Plates ($16.99): As part of the new spring 2016 Collection from Fitz and Floyd, the Numbers Canister and Bistro Black Number Appetizer Plates (available exclusively at Bed Bath & Beyond) offer crisp clean patterns and prints of the collection that are sure to bring the breath of the season into the home.